The Antic Disposition in Hamlet

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The character of Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name is one of the more complex and interesting characters in the western canon – in attempting to take revenge on his uncle Claudius for his alleged murder of Hamlet’s father, the young prince feigns insanity in order to get the man’s guard down and keep him off balance until finding the right time to strike. However, the question remains – by the end of the play, just how much is Hamlet pretending to be insane? Is it really an act, or has Hamlet really taken on an “antic disposition” as Hamlet vows to put on (I.v.172)? While it can be confirmed that Hamlet’s insanity is more or less a ruse, his own dedication to his task, as well as the uncertainty he has about following through with it, lead to several moments of true insanity for the character of Hamlet. The character purports to put on a veneer of madness merely as a simulation, but his own grief and the weight of his intended plan leads him to go down a path that clouds his mind with sadness and into insanity at various points.
Hamlet's characters often feel as though they are the victims of fate; however, much of what happens to them is borne of their own doing. The power of man to shape their own destiny is clear in the play - Hamlet himself says, "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god!" (II.ii.293-297). The actions of the characters in Hamlet, from Hamlet's decision whether or not to kill Claudius to Gertrude's willful ignorance of her husband's doings, all lead to the often-gruesome fates that they encounter. Vengeance drives the central plot of Hamlet, as Haml...

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...faking it to fool Claudius.
In conclusion, Hamlet’s insanity is much more ambiguous than his outright statement of putting on an “antic disposition” would imply. There are several moments in the play where he shows that he cannot really control his behavior, and right from the start he seems to be extremely emotional and violent in his outbursts. It is easy to see how the grief of his father’s death, included with the indecisiveness he has in what he wants to do to Claudius, could lead him to have a much looser grip on reality than he might want. Hamlet often forgets himself and where he is, and if he wants to pretend to be mad while actually being strictly sane, he would not be so careless with his real plan, especially if he knows that his enemies can hear him. Because of this, Hamlet’s “antic disposition” can be seen as something that is not completely put on.